Kentucky basketball players, from left, Cason Wallace, Lance Ware, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves competed on the team’s trip to the Bahamas over the summer.

Kentucky basketball players, from left, Cason Wallace, Lance Ware, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin and Antonio Reeves competed on the team’s trip to the Bahamas over the summer.

UK Athletics

A few minutes after his allotted time at the SEC media day podium was up, John Calipari realized he’d made a mistake.

By actually giving direct answers to the questions he was asked Wednesday, the Kentucky coach had forgotten to pivot to one of his pet projects of this preseason.

He quickly took to Twitter to rectify the oversight and push his latest talking point.

“Just finished my media session and I forgot to talk about summer basketball where we play games and compete within the league or outside,” Calipari tweeted. “Our players get to play, our assistants get a chance to coach and most importantly, it brings basketball to the forefront in July or early August!”

And a little while later, Calipari joined the SEC Network crew on set and made sure to talk about his plan.

“Why wouldn’t every team want to have the summer to get better?” the UK coach said. “They’re on campus practicing. So why wouldn’t you go play in Rupp Arena? Play two or three or four games. … What’s going on in July? Nothing.

“So now, all of a sudden, we’re taking over. College basketball.”

The idea is simple. College basketball programs already have their players on campus during the summer. They practice throughout July and August, so why not add a little something extra — actual competitive games — to the offseason?

As it stands, college teams are allowed to travel internationally once every four years to play outside competition. Such trips — and the added practices that precede them — have proven to be beneficial to players’ development on the court and camaraderie within the team.

Calipari saw that firsthand with Kentucky’s first trip to the Bahamas back in 2014, and he’s been lobbying behind the scenes for a more normalized summer basketball schedule pretty much ever since.

Over the past few weeks — coming off another trip to the Bahamas in August — he’s gone public with the idea, and it’s clearly picking up steam.

In an interview with The Athletic this month, Calipari detailed his plan, and some high-profile decision-makers in the college basketball world backed him up.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for basketball, voiced his support. So did NABC executive director Craig Robinson, who called it “a win-win for everyone.” Gavitt said the plan could come to fruition as early as next summer.

At SEC media day this week, the idea was universally praised.

All 13 of the league’s other coaches were asked for their thoughts on summer basketball. Not a single one voiced even the slightest degree of opposition. And the vast majority delivered full-throated support. Some even opined that it would happen soon.

“I think it’s an awesome idea,” said Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman.

“I’m a big proponent of that,” said Mississippi Coach Kermit Davis.

“All for it,” said Georgia Coach Mike White.

Answers in the affirmative were unanimous, though the reasoning varied from coach to coach.

Benefits of summer basketball

One overriding theme was an opportunity for college basketball to grab some summer spotlight at a time when most of the major pro sports were on hiatus.

“There’s a huge void of sports on TV in August,” said Alabama’s Nate Oats. “There’s no NFL yet. College football is not going. NBA is not going. Major League Baseball hasn’t started their playoffs yet. I don’t watch any sports in August.”

South Carolina Coach Lamont Paris agreed.

“I also find myself searching for something on TV once the NBA playoffs are over,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know what to watch, honestly. A little golf here and there, I guess.”

Missouri Coach Dennis Gates said holding games in the summer could provide an opportunity for assistant coaches. That’s something Calipari has also mentioned — allowing the assistants to take over the head coaching reins in summer games, which he’s done on past Bahamas trips.

“Now you’ll have a next generation of coaches at this level say they got their shot and their confidence … in coaching maybe in the summer league,” Gates said.

Multiple SEC coaches brought up the possibility of more exposure for the players themselves, which would theoretically lead to additional name, image and likeness opportunities, yet another selling point Calipari has touted.

Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes offered up another interesting angle.

“I think referees need it,” he said. “I think it would really help officiating. They could get more work in before we actually get into games because these early (showcase) games mean a lot. For some situations, they’ve only had a game or two under their belt when that starts. Maybe that might be their first one.”

A few coaches assumed the TV networks would be eager to snap up the rights for summer college basketball at a time with relatively little going on in the sports world.

“I think there’s certainly a TV window there late in the summer that’s empty, and I think whatever we can do to generate more excitement around college basketball would be better for us,” said LSU’s Matt McMahon.

Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl and Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse also took their teams on foreign trips this summer, talking up the experience and adding their support for the opportunity to play games every offseason, not just once every four years.

Perhaps as surprising as the universal support — how rare must it be to get this many high-profile basketball coaches on the same page about anything? — was the credit thrown Calipari’s way by his league rivals. Several SEC foes independently mentioned the Kentucky coach as the catalyst for what they see as a worthy new venture.

The idea is just now reaching the public, but it’s something he’s been talking about behind the scenes, especially at the annual league retreat in Destin, for years now.

“Summer basketball, I think, is a wonderful idea,” said Chris Jans, who’s in his first season as Mississippi State’s head coach. “It’s something that Coach Cal brought up in the Destin meetings. I’m not saying he was the impetus, but I don’t know anyone else that’s ever brought it up.”

Oats also credited Calipari, saying he had “a good point.” Barnes, one of Calipari’s closest coaching friends, said he’d had one-on-one conversations with him about it.

Musselman, who has rebuilt Arkansas into one of the SEC’s best teams and appears positioned to be one of Calipari’s biggest rivals for the foreseeable future, lauded the Kentucky coach.

“I know Coach Calipari has been outspoken about the idea,” he said. “… I think that’s the brilliance in Coach Cal is he is an outside-the-box thinker. He is constantly trying to evolve and evolve our game. I think it’s an incredible idea, and I think, most importantly, that our players would embrace that.”

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Ben Roberts is the University of Kentucky men’s basketball beat writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He has previously specialized in UK basketball recruiting coverage and created and maintained the Next Cats blog. He is a Franklin County native and first joined the Herald-Leader in 2006.
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